Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
Fallout 76 is Bethesda’s most controversial launch in years. It contains many of the same flaws present in the other Fallout games, only to a greater extent. When combined with some new issues and a multiplayer focus that a large portion of the fanbase found disappointing, both critics and fans gave the game mediocre reviews. The game’s weak critical reception has impacted its sales, with Fallout 76 already being dropped to $40 for Black Friday deals. Some gamers wanted 76 to fail and are happy to see it having such a rough launch (a stance I find to be truly pathetic), whereas other players are simply disappointed in how the ambitious game turned out. Then, there are those that expected a typical messy launch from Bethesda and are enjoying the game despite its lack of polish. I didn’t truly dive into the game until this weekend, but based on everything I had read about it, I was curious to see where I’d fall on it.
After playing Fallout 76 all weekend, I have my answer...
Let’s just get these out of the way, because the numerous problems with Fallout 76 have been discussed by pretty much everyone at this point.
Building and Stash limitations: Perhaps one of the most appealing features of Fallout 76 during its reveal was the ability to build settlements with friends. The building system worked well in Fallout 4 and makes a welcome return in Fallout 76, as it should fit even better in this game than it did in its predecessor. The problem? Players have a very small area to work with when it comes to creating their camps. Creating a town is simply impossible to do solo due to the tiny building area, and in co-op it will be challenging to work around the building limitations to create a large, visually appealing hideout for you and your friends. Making building even more difficult is the large number of resources required to make structures, and the limited number of stash space to carry those resources. The game asks you to collect and dismantle everything you see in order to build, which would not be an issue if it wasn’t for the laughably small stash limit. By the time I reached level 20, my stash was completely full, and I was forced to choose between saving up building materials or outfits and weapons.
If Fallout 76 wants to survive and thrive, increasing the number of things that can be built and stored needs to be a priority for Bethesda. If not, myself and many others will spend all their days in Appalachia living in small and ugly shacks.
Performance Issues: Yep, this is a Bethesda game. I dealt with around five crashes during my first twenty hours, saw plenty of items and enemies clip through walls, struggled to fight an invincible mole rat and had a handful of quests glitch out on me. While this is all par for the course in a Bethesda title, the game’s awful frame rate and server issues make 76 run worse than Fallout 4 or Skyrim ever did. I found my frames dropping in every large fight (especially when playing with other people), and when I wasn’t lagging my way through an encounter, I often found myself waiting for the server to respond or being disconnected from the server entirely.
An outdated engine: After playing Fallout 76 for an extended period of time, the news that Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 will be running on the same engine becomes even more frustrating. Yes, there is a certain charm to the way these games look and feel, but that is no excuse for keeping such an outdated piece of technology around. Bethesda may have been able to pull off some impressive tricks with lighting and environmental design using the Creation Engine, but when it comes to gameplay, the games still running on it fail to deliver. Transitioning from something as smooth as Black Ops 4’s gunplay to the incredibly clunky shooting mechanics of 76 makes for an almost laughable experience, and the predictability of the AI doesn’t help matters. Unfortunately, this isn’t an issue Bethesda can solve, but I truly hope they start using some new software to design their open world games going forward.
Predictable storytelling: While quests having multiple outcomes in other Fallout games was a strength of the series, the elimination of NPCs makes that impossible. Bethesda wanting actual players to fill NPC roles was interesting in concept but flawed in execution. Every Survivor Story holotape has the same depressing ending, and every quest ends with the humans involved being dead or missing. Even the most interesting quests, such as the story of a child who was abducted by his uncle and held for ransom, can’t escape this fundamental flaw in the game’s writing. When dedicated servers go live and role playing becomes commonplace, player-created quests can fill the gap left by the lack of NPCs. As of now, though, knowing how every bit of story will be wrapped up kills any motivation to pay attention.
Solo play: Fallout 76 was designed to be played multiplayer, and that shows if you attempt to play on your own. Without NPCs or other players, the world feels empty, and with nothing but holotapes and corpses to keep you company, you’ll quickly be looking for a group to join up with.
Clearly, Fallout 76 has some huge problems. However, there is also a lot that it does right, and it’s worth acknowledging the core strengths of the game. If Bethesda can fix some of the big issues with 76, the game has the potential to be the great open world, co-op Fallout game it was advertised to be.
Almost Heaven, West Virginia: One of the biggest strengths of Fallout 76 is the open world itself, as Bethesda did a tremendous job of designing Appalachia. After twenty-plus hours of playtime, I had only seen about one fourth of all there is to explore in the massive world, and the diversity of each section of the map is what kept me engaged while exploring. Going to different parts of the map and finding different locales and enemy types is wildly satisfying, and it’s a huge motivator to keep exploring. While the quests and holotapes may prove predictable, the Bethesda magic still shines when it comes to environmental storytelling. During my playtime, I stumbled across some mysterious campgrounds. I found tapes and notes where campers complained about noises, pictures turning and doors slamming. I felt the ground shake and heard screams in the surrounding area, and a friend of mine experienced the same thing. We followed the screams and found nothing. I was legitimately confused, and as I searched the place up online, my friend followed power lines from the camp to a terminal in a treehouse. There were controls here for every creepy event that happened in the camp, and it’s clear that either someone was playing a prank on the campers.
This moment proved more interesting than the monster I expected to find causing the shaking and the screams, and it’s proof that some of what makes the Fallout series great remains in 76.
The Soundtrack, photo mode and little details: A key factor to Fallout’s success has always been its great collection of music, and 76 proves to have the best soundtrack yet due to a mix of songs from the other games in the series and some fun new additions. The same level of love was put into the photo mode, and artistic players will make good use of it like they have in games such as Horizon: Zero Dawn and Spider-Man. Finally, all the little touches like emotes, playing instruments and sleeping in beds are going to be great for players who like to role play, and Bethesda probably has plans to expand the emote system in the future.
Survival elements and progression: Tasking players with eating and drinking to stay healthy proves to be incredibly fun in the Fallout universe, as avoiding radiation poisoning on top of this makes for a legitimate challenge. Diseases and mutations are also present, with the former being completely negative and the latter offering benefits to go with the drawbacks. Being infected by a diseased enemy or gaining sicknesses from sleeping on the floor is legitimately entertaining, and it makes hunting and searching everything a worthwhile experience.
The game’s progression is also great, as the perk card system allows for plenty of freedom in building your character. While there are the typical perks like lockpicking skill increases and lowering the weight of items, Fallout 76 retains the wackiness of the series by keeping the ridiculous perks in play as well. Drinking blood packs and cannibalism are some of the grosser options, and once again enhance the role-playing experience. Opening perk card packs every few levels is enjoyable and being able to share the benefits of perks with people in your party is a nice touch. Further, I constantly felt like I was improving my weapons and armor, and it was great to never feel underpowered.
Phenomenal enemies: There is no shortage of creatures to fight in this new Fallout wasteland, and those creatures make for one of the best aspects of the game. The enemy variation is genuinely great; scorchers replace raiders as a more interesting basic enemy, and nearly every memorable cryptid from the series is present in Appalachia. 76 really shines through its new enemy types, and there are plenty of them to find in the world. Giant sloths and frogs are unique and fun to fight, while snallygasters and grafton monsters are incredibly dangerous. Nothing compares to the scorchbeasts, however, as these poisonous high-level enemies function like Skyrim’s dragons. They’re both cool and terrifying, and I died instantly during my first meeting with one. Having an air-based enemy in Fallout makes for much more diverse fighting scenarios, and scorchbeasts serve this purpose incredibly well.
Multiplayer and the Fallout player base: Co-op is the main feature of Fallout 76, and thankfully, Bethesda nails it on the first try. Joining up with friends is simple and smooth, and working with them to complete quests or kill big enemies makes for a great time. Simply having friends in the world with you makes every game mechanic more interesting and each discovery more exciting, and it’s crucial to enjoying Fallout 76. This is, after all, the way the game was meant to be played.
Thankfully, the Fallout community does not go out of their way to ruin your fun; in fact, they add to it. I have not come across a single hostile player during my time with the game thus far, as everyone either seems willing to help or just wants to do their own thing. I completed events and traded with a few players, and even had a memorable encounter with a player role-playing as a character from Call of Duty Zombies. Every player encounter has been a positive one, and it’s something that keeps returning to the game world a welcoming prospect.
Since I have yet to see some key elements of Fallout 76, such as end game content, PvP and nukes, I did not want to make this a formal review of the game. However, if I were to score it right now, I would place it somewhere in the 6/10 range.
Fallout 76 is in a state very similar to the one that Sea of Thieves and No Man’s Sky were when they launched. The game has plenty of potential, and honestly, the core mechanics work well. The open world is great, the enemies are memorable, and co-op is plenty of fun. The game truly should be better than it is, as many of the things holding the game back can be fixed if Bethesda puts in the effort. Stash and building size should be a relatively simple fix, whereas server stability and frame rate improvements should certainly come over time. It may not be possible to fix the gameplay issues that come with using an outdated engine, and solo play will never feel right without NPCs, but Fallout 76 has potential to become a terrific multiplayer game in the future.
Only time will tell what becomes of Fallout 76. It is not the utter mess that some gamers want you to believe it is, but most of the complaints critics and fans have made are legitimate. In its current state, Fallout 76 is a mediocre game that is not worth $60. In the future, however, it truly could become something special.